Washington Rep. Charles Norwood Jr., a blunt-spoken Georgia Republican who sold his dental practice and ran for Congress at age 52, died Tuesday after battling cancer and lung disease.
Norwood, 65, died at his home in Augusta, Ga., his spokesman said. House members debating the war in Iraq interrupted proceedings for two moments of silence in his honor.
The vacancy created by his death will be filled by a special election.
A feisty, tobacco-chewing conservative who loved to hunt and who railed against government bureaucracy, Norwood beat Democratic incumbent Don Johnson in 1994 to become the first Republican to represent his eastern Georgia district since shortly after the Civil War.
Norwood's passion was health care. Taking on insurance companies, he spent much of his political career pressing for a "patients' bill of rights" aimed at giving consumers better access to care, including greater ability to sue insurers.